Yesterday I finished reading Amor Towles’ marvelous novel entitled A Gentleman in Moscow. It is the sort of book one reads languidly over several cups of tea and a scone, but which then prompts one to jump up and be polite, punctual, and engagingly philosophical in all meetings one might have that day.
In many ways, I would characterize this novel as the grown-up’s A Little Princess. There, one is kind and cheerful despite one’s circumstances; here, one masters one’s circumstances with cheerfulness and civility. Both take place in a limited geographical location, yet our gentleman has traveled more and is generally more cosmopolitan, so the world is naturally larger and more interesting.
Towles’ mastery of characterization is so thorough that even the clocks in the hotel become a vibrant part of Rostov’s interaction with the world. The hotel is, of course, a major character, and one which grows, changes, and gets older just as Rostov does. The areas in the hotel become characters, from the Boyarsky (my favorite) to the attic (my other favorite). Somehow the Hotel Metropol becomes the universe, just as much as it remains the still small point from which the entirety of the world is experienced.
And this world is experienced through the eyes of His Excellency, Count Alexander Rostov, Former Person and erstwhile resident of Idlehour. If he had a business card, it would say, “circumstances met & challenges faced with excellency and good humor.” He is a lovely man who would be a delightful acquaintance in real life.
Now, I’m not going to talk about the thing that happens at the end of Book 1, or the thing that happens at The End, so you’re just going to have to read it and find out.